A mistake costs. It costs confidence, pride, reputation and opportunity. There are consequences for the people involved, for those around them, and for the situation at hand.
Everyone makes mistakes; an impulsive word, a delayed diagnosis, a broken relationship. The Bible is full of those who made mistakes; decisions which led to lies, adultery, even murder.
Working in the medical field, I have made my own mistakes, and have also seen the aftermath of some big mistakes that I never want to make myself. Reading through the coroner’s reports, I often wonder how the people involved are coping. Do they blame themselves? Are they able to continue working, and living with the same confidence as before?
As I reflect on all this, I find my own perception of mistakes and their impact has changed a little. Here are some thoughts.
1. Redefining our mistakes
Sometimes in life, things just happen.
We could do everything as per protocol, and a patient might still die. Decisions need to be made all the time, and every decision has a consequence. Sometimes we know we have made the wrong decision, sometimes it is the right decision despite a tragic outcome, and sometimes we just don’t know if our decision was “right” or “wrong”.
Ultimately, it is God who knows what is right and what is wrong, God who knows our heart, and God who will judge us at the end of time.
When we make a mistake, we might think we have failed, done something wrong, made someone unhappy. Yet, the Holy Spirit transforms our thinking in the revelation of God's grace. His grace in our mistakes means we can step above regret, tragedy, brokenness, and sin; we can draw closer to God even despite these things.
When we make a mistake, we are likely to feel down. However, our mistakes and our sin do not define us. They are not our identity. God redefines our mistakes when He shows us our identity; we are loved and redeemed by Him. With this knowledge, the negativity of a mistake becomes overshadowed by the peace of God’s loving-kindness:
"… but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans chapter 5, verse 8).
2. When God’s grace meets our mistakes
When I first started working, I reviewed my decisions often. I felt my work was a necessary testimony and, if I was not a good doctor, how could I effectively share the gospel with others?
It is important to have a testimony of excellence and integrity in our lives, but at the same time, God can work through our mistakes. He is God in our failures, just as He is God in our victories. He is God in our weaknesses, even as He is God in our strengths; sometimes we build a testimony in the way we respond to our mistakes.
King David, when rebuked by the prophet Nathan for adultery and murder, acknowledged his sin saying, "I have sinned against the Lord." (2 Samuel chapter 12, verse 13). The consequence of this sin was the death of David and Bathsheba’s son. Despite the pain of this consequence, David resolved to worship God. He knew both God’s grace and His authority.
We see David become a man after God's own heart, and we see it written that God loved David. King David's response to his mistake was to acknowledge it, confess it, repent and seek God. In his story, we see how God can work even despite our mistakes. He is a merciful God and when we turn to Him, we find the hope in His grace.
3. Grace on the mistakes around us
It is not just our own mistakes that can cause our soul to become downcast; the mistakes of others can also affect us. A discouraging word perhaps, a stolen birthright, a betrayal of friendship; the Bible shows us stories of people sold into slavery (Joseph), sent into exile (Ishmael) and killed in battle (Uriah) because of the mistakes of others.
When someone makes a mistake that affects us, we can become angry and judgemental. It can be hard to have grace on that mistake. Joseph gives us an example of forgiveness when he speaks to the brothers who sold him into slavery. He says,
“… Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good…” (Genesis 50:19-20).
Knowing that God is in control, and that His purposes are good, helps us to forgive. Recognising that God forgives us time and time again when we sin against Him, also helps us to forgive others. When we forgive, we allow our heart to heal. If we refuse to forgive, the grudge and resentment that grows within us can destroy us.
Our mistakes are not our identity, but an opportunity to see a transformation of character, of heart, and of hope in God. They are an opportunity to grow, an opportunity to forgive and an opportunity for testimony. So in our weaknesses, let us turn to God and hope in Him.
“Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance.”
(Psalm chapter 42, verse 5)
Kristen is a family doctor, and author of the e-book ‘An Internship with Jesus’. She lives with her husband in Adelaide and writes a weekly blog (lostnowfoundk) on life with God. Her second blog, Lily of the Valleys, aims to share her love for Jesus through music and art.